JACKSONVILLE — In front of 9,613 fans at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville the No. 2 Florida Gators beat the No. 7 Florida State Seminoles 1-0.
Andrew Karp earned the start for the Noles. The junior started all three games against the Gators in 2017 and has started both against the Orange and Blue this season. Add on a Super regional appearance and Karp has six outings against the Gators in his career.
For the Gators it was freshman righty Jack Leftwich, who threw well against Arkansas over 1.2 innings last weekend but had given up four earned runs in his previous 1.2 innings of work. This was Leftwich’s first start against Florida State and he didn’t disappoint even in front of the biggest crowd he’d ever played in front of.
“I think it’s cool,” Leftwich said of the crowd. “I thought I was going to be nervous but it actually wasn’t that bad. I was just focusing on throwing the ball to JJ (Schwarz) and keeping the ball low.”
Leftwich retired the first two batters he faced before walking Rhett Aplin with two outs. He retired the next 13 batters he faced, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Leftwich was cognizant that he hadn’t given up a hit through five innings but was so locked in that he was actually mad at himself for falling behind some hitters with two outs.
“I had that one two out walk and the next two innings I went 3-1 or 3-0 on the next hitters that had two outs and back in the fall I would give up runs with two outs,” he said. “I new I had no hits I was just mad when I’d get behind those hitters because I’d get two quick outs and then go 3-0 or 3-1 and I just can’t do that.”
Florida only had four hits on the night but strung together two in a row in the fourth inning to get on the board. Wil Dalton lined a fastball down the left field line with one out to get things going. Austin Langworthy singled to right field sharply. Even though Langworthy hit the ball hard, Dalton was able to round third with a full head of steam and slide safely in at home to give Florida a 1-0 lead.
“He pitches backwards a lot,” Langworthy, who has faced Karp every time he’s pitched against Florida, said of the FSU starter. “I saw a bunch of changeups tonight, which is something I haven’t been seeing. I’ve been getting attacked with fastballs in. I saw a changeup up and was able to get aggressive with.”
That’s all Karp would give up. He surrendered one more hit over eight innings of work but would earn the loss despite striking out seven and allowing just one run.
Leftwich came back out to the mound in the sixth inning and gave up a leadoff single to Rafael Bournigal. O’Sullivan came out to the mound once and looked at Leftwich’s throwing hand. Florida’s trainer came out and that would be it for Leftwich after 67 pitches in favor of Jordan Butler.
O’Sullivan said after the game that Leftwich was fine
The freshman lefty took care of the base runner he inherited with a ground ball double play and fielded his position for the final out of the sixth before working a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh.
Butler came out to start the eighth inning but walked leadoff batter Drew Mendoza. That triggered O’Sullivan to go to the bullpen and bring in Michael Byrne. The junior closer gave up his first run in 26.2 innings on Sunday, while earning a win over Arkansas and worked around the base runner he inherited with a pop out and pair of strikeouts.
“He’s special,” O’Sullivan said. “I keep saying the same thing over and over. He’s just got the right temperament, keeps everything under control.”
Byrne went back out in the ninth inning and was greeted by a Mike Salvatore single up the middle. Byrne struck out Nick Derr but left a slider up to Jackson Lueck, who singled to right center to put the tying run just 90-feet away. O’Sullivan came out to settle Byrne down but he didn’t need it.
“The only time my heart was ever really beating last year was against LSU (in the College World Series),” he said after the game. “Runners on first and third, nobody out.”
Byrne struck out Aplin and induced a Cal Raleigh groundout to first to secure the win. The save was Byrne’s sixth of the season, but more importantly it was his 25th career save, tying a school record.
— Ryan Young (@RyanYoungSEC) March 28, 2018
Florida finished 19-7 in one-run games, the most one-run wins in the country, and are 4-0 in such games this season.
Prior to 2017 FSU hadn’t lost a game 1-0 since 1994. Tuesday’s 1-0 loss coupled with a 1-0 loss to UF last year makes it two in two seasons.
The No. 2 Gators (21-5, 4-2 SEC) will play host to No. 8 Vanderbilt (17-7, 5-1 SEC) for a three-game series this weekend starting Friday.